Sun 8 Mar 2009
an old friend came into town last week on her way to a conference not far away. she was a friend in our expat days, someone we spent late nights and hangovers with, someone whose apartment floor we crashed on, whose ashtrays and rare collection of actual decent English books we made free with.
she arrived as my brain was waddling knee-deep, delayed but engaged, through the soupy fascination of online point and counterpoint about what it means to be a woman, whether motherhood is a dividing line more definitive than the others that mark us.
my friend moved back to Canada around when we did, to study obscure bits of Russian history and politics. she’s currently doing a Ph.D, and is spending her mid-thirties immersed in student life in a communal house littered with Doc Martens. she has an indie music show on the campus radio station, and her fiancé, who arrived with her, is eight years younger than she. both have hair to their waists.
they arrived at our house right exactly in the midst of the chaotic ballet of suppertime. it was potty-training week for one child and teething and first-foods week for the other. tofu and baby cereal and Thomas cups half-full of milk were strewn around the kitchen along with the ingredients for the curry i’d make later for the adults, and the baby was fussing in her high chair whilst Dave and i improvised “pooping is so fun” songs to the half-naked boy perched on his throne in the middle of the kitchen floor. the boy who hadn’t pooped in two days, because the power of withholding was a mad concoction he’d discovered two nights before when we got ourselves all het up about imminent potty success and a poop party and pretty much terrorized him into constipation. so there we were, all nonchalant-like.
oh hi! hugs. you brought champagne? wonderful. i’m shouting over the howling baby, who has developed an occasional but vehement stranger aversion. i unrolled a breast sloppily from the armour of my nursing bra, rocking rhythmically.
our friend had knit Oscar a hat, a fabulous fish creature which i mistook for a dinosaur. it itches, he complained, without guile. she looked crushed. he saw this and kept it on. he liked her on sight.
our guests perched on stools in the midst of the chaos, trying gamely to keep a so how’ve you been? conversation going betwixt the dance of chopping and feeding and creating a poop-positive environment and Oscar retrieving most of his toys from the playroom for them to admire. she told of a trip to St. Petersburg – the Russian one, not Florida – and a summer in Spain and he showed off the amazing silver jewellry he creates and i interjected inanely with salient comments like wow! and where? and omygodDaveithinkhe’spooping!
like our noses couldn’t tell.
so the offending prize was duly carried away and celebrated in absentia with chocolate chip cookies and high fives and then it was bedtime and our entire family disappeared upstairs for the usual ablutions of tooth-brushing and bathing and medication-doling and stories and the very fussy Josephine settled only to let loose with a torrent of howlage that recalled me upstairs only minutes after i’d made it down, and kept me up there for what felt like the entire night but was actually only 20 minutes or so. i was afraid they’d drink all the champagne without me.
finally, we ate. and my friend asked, so what do you do here, for fun? is there much of a music scene? you doing any theatre? and i looked at her like she was speaking Swahili and chirped, uh, i have book club tomorrow night! like a birthday-party magician who’s been asked to conjure a pony but can only come up with a lame and slightly off-topic rabbit. i didn’t admit that i couldn’t actually remember what we were reading for book club and went on that yes, there is a decent arts community here but we don’t go OUT really and i caught my friend’s head tilt and the chasm between us gaped and i realized that it was pointless for me to assert that i’m happy in spite of how it sounds because that would just be protesting too much. and i felt like i might as well just lie down and die in my apron, and stick a sign over me saying here lies Bonnie, the caricature of motherhood, fit only to be pitied and judged…unless you Get It.
but here’s the thing.
my friend has kids.
two of them. she had them young and she was the primary caregiver to a girl and a boy thirteen months apart for years while their dad drove a truck until when they hit school she hit a wall and went out and found herself and shares custody of these almost-teens while she studies and makes for herself a life that has to be very different from the one she lived for five years while they were small.
and still, much as she has a heart the size of Texas and charmed Oscar and cooed over Josephine, she doesn’t Get It anymore. it was as plain as day, written all over her face…she has simply forgotten that there could be a life so circumscribed by bodily functions and one’s own lack of sleep. maybe it shocked her to discover that it wasn’t just her and her circumstances that made those early years so crazy, that two little kids blows most of us out of way out of the hipness pond for awhile, if not forever…but it shocked her, that much was clear. i was not entirely the person she came to see, even if she was as gracious as could be about it.
we are both girls and both women, my friend and i, depending on whether the topic of conversation is silly or serious. we are also both mothers. but one of us is in a place where the energy for outside stimuli is sucked out of me on a regular basis by tears and poop and guiding and comforting and all those things that my children will only come to me for overtly for a few more years, really. she gives me hope that someday my conversations will NOT be about poop…and in the interim, i hope she – and you – will bear with me.
happy International Women’s Day, chicas.
how have your friendships been impacted by children? did your friends have kids earlier or later than you, or at all? does how you perceive other women – or interact with them – shift according to their parenting status?